The real reason not to take this seriously is that Trump has probably told 30-40 different people at this point that he’s going to put them on the Court. It may be part of his generic small talk with donors for all we know. “What do you think about my polls in Ohio? Good, right? You know, I can see you on the Supreme Court.” Wait until he finds out he’s not allowed to fire appointees after they’re confirmed.
Donald Trump has made it clear he will nominate Peter Thiel to the Supreme Court if he wins the presidency, Thiel has told friends, according to a source close to the PayPal co-founder.
Trump “deeply loves Peter Thiel,” and people in the real estate mogul’s inner circle are talking about Thiel as a Supreme Court nominee, a separate source close to Trump told The Huffington Post. That source, who has not spoken to Trump directly about Thiel being nominated to the Court, cautioned that Trump’s offers often fail to materialize in real life…
Were Trump to actually nominate Thiel, he would be by far the richest Supreme Court nominee of the modern era, with an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion.
Thiel is a venture capitalist who co-founded the CIA-backed data-mining firm Palantir in addition to PayPal. He also started a now-withered hedge fund and was the first outside investor in Facebook. He is a Facebook board member and the chairman of Palantir.
Thiel spoke at the Republican convention this year although he’s been in the news most recently for having financially backed Hulk Hogan’s successful lawsuit against Gawker, which led to that site shutting down. He does have some experience in law, but only the barest minimum compared to what Supreme Court nominees traditionally have had: He went to Stanford Law School and then worked for a few months at Sullivan & Cromwell, a prestigious firm, before moving on to other things. Typically when someone is nominated for the Court, the American Bar Association will issue a judgment on how qualified they are for the seat. How Thiel would fare, given his lack of experience in practicing law and the flak he’s taken over the Gawker suit, is an open question. Trump could nominate him regardless of what the ABA has to say, of course — if anything, he’d enjoy sticking it to “the experts” by choosing someone they disapprove of — but an “unqualified” rating would give Democrats ammo to oppose Thiel.
His politics are unorthodox too by traditional Republican standards. Thiel’s a libertarian who supports gay marriage (and is gay himself). Social conservatives might go along with the pick to back Trump up, but he’s not going to be Scalia redux for them on cultural questions — and, given his lack of a legal paper trail, how he’d rule on everything else is unpredictable. Why a nationalist like Trump would want a legal cipher, especially a libertarian-leaning cipher, on the Court is baffling, frankly. His bread and butter politically is authoritarianism, protecting (or expanding) entitlements, and bringing back waterboarding for terrorists. I can imagine Justice Thiel looking skeptically at all of those projects. (If you’re a conservative or a “conservatarian,” you could do far, far worse than Thiel as a Trump pick.) A candidate who cared about ideology would see the pitfalls here, but because Trump views people as “good” or “bad” to the extent they view him as good or bad, Thiel is necessarily “good” because he spoke up for Trump at the convention. Wait until Kellyanne explains to him that a libertarian on the Court could wreck his agenda.
But seriously, though, this isn’t going to happen. Trump’s campaign denied it when asked for comment by HuffPo and Thiel’s spokesman laughed it off:
Thiel spox on Thiel/Supreme Court: "HuffPo's sources are lying… Peter hasn’t had any conversations about a SC nom & has no interest."
— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) September 15, 2016
Thiel’s 48 years old, a famous entrepreneur, and a titan of Silicon Valley. He’s going to give all of that up to sit in a room in Washington writing legal opinions for the next 40 years? C’mon. The man has sea colonies to build and human lifespans to extend. Although Jeff Blehar makes a good point: Once Thiel figures out the secret to immortality, he’d make a great SCOTUS pick. The GOP would have that seat locked up for eternity.
As further SCOTUS reading today, check out Glenn Reynolds’s argument for directly electing the justices instead of allowing the president to appoint them. There are problems with that, as he acknowledges — a Court that’s responsible to the majority might be less inclined to defend the rights of the minority — but if you’re worried about judicial unaccountability, that’s the surest fix. Also, read this interesting argument for eliminating Scalia’s seat altogether and turning the Court into an eight-member institution permanently. (Congress could do that by simple statute.) That wouldn’t change anything once one party or the other has a five-member majority, but a four-four split like we have now would mean more deference to the lower courts and would force the two blocs to compromise and find a five-member consensus on big issues that simply must be resolved by SCOTUS. Worth thinking about.